Cultivating a colourful press release

LUCY BLACKMAN   •   MAY 31, 2017  


Saturday marked the end of the famous annual Chelsea Flower Show, with the top honour, ‘best in show’, awarded to James Basson’s Maltese limestone quarry. With its “stark and monumentally brutal” limestone slabs, sparse planting and use of unusual shrubs and grasses, the garden can by no means be described as conventionally pretty, and is certain to divide opinion among the show’s fans. Nevertheless, the space’s unique design and commitment to the theme of ecological sustainability has certainly proved successful in capturing the imagination of not only the show’s judges but also national and international media titles. The green-fingered creation got me thinking about the similarities between gardening and writing (bear with me) so I’ve compiled a list of the key elements needed to cultivate a colourful and attention-grabbing press release worthy of media coverage.

1. Is your story newsworthy?
Just as Basson’s prizewinning space was developed around an original and thought-provoking idea, a successful press release should attempt to say something new that will actually be of interest to your brand’s target audience or industry. Think carefully and be honest with yourself about why people will care about your story and what’s likely to make it of interest to a journalist. When pitching to the press, bear in mind that rather than trying to adopt a ‘one size fits all’ solution, picking out which aspects of your release are most relevant to a particular readership is likely to be the most successful approach to securing coverage.
2. Choose a strong headline
A good headline should be both engaging and relevant to the content of your release. This is another situation where its pays to try and put yourself in a journalist’s shoes; remember that they’re likely to be very busy and have hundreds of emails flooding into their inbox each day, so what’s going to convince them to open yours? In this way, think of your release’s headline as the garden entrance – it should be in keeping with your main theme and entice people in to learn more.
3. Get to the point in your top line
There’s obviously no point having a strong headline if your reader’s attention is lost in the first few lines of the release. To avoid this, make sure your top line clearly summarises your story, including as many of the ‘5 Ws’ as possible; who, what, where, why and when. Assuming that journalists only have a very limited amount of time to decide whether your story’s for them, getting straight to the point in the first few lines gives you a much better chance of convincing them to read on.
4. Weed out excess detail
Like many past winners, the powerful execution of Basson’s design has a lot to do with its focus on a single, strong idea. Similarly, when writing a press release, it is important to have a clear understanding of what story you want to promote and make sure this key theme doesn’t become lost amongst surplus facts and details. Ideally, a release should be no longer than a side of A4 – roughly three or four paragraphs plus one or two short quotes. Sticking to this formula will encourage you to include only the most salient points while any essential information about the company or brand should be placed in the Notes to Editors.
5. Include insightful, not informative quotes
When adding quotes to your release, think carefully in advance about who is likely to be the best spokesperson for a particular product, brand or business and aim to introduce useful insight without bogging readers down with statistics or overly-technical language. Rather than being there to add more information to your story, think of quotes as introducing an element of human colour into your factual framework.

By creating a focused, succinct and engaging release which ends on a flourish, you stand the best chance of grabbing the attention of your target media titles and gaining maximum coverage for your brand’s story.

Benjamin Thomas